From 2008 to 2015, the percentage of children ages 5 to 17 hospitalized for suicidal thoughts or actions more than doubled, according to data presented Sunday at the 2017 Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting in San Francisco.
The study, led by Gregory Plemmons, an associate professor of pediatrics at Vanderbilt’s Children’s Hospital, looked at data on suicidal or self-harm diagnoses from 32 children’s hospitals across the United States.
Researchers found 118,363 instances from 2008 to 2015. Accounting for 59,631 (50.4 percent) of the incidents were 15- to 17-year-olds. Twelve- to 14-year-olds accounted for 43,682 (36.9 percent) of them, while 5- to 11-year-olds accounted for 15,050 (12.7 percent).
Over time, the percentage of young patients hospitalized for suicidal thoughts, rather than other ailments, more than doubled. In 2008, 0.67 percent of patients were admitted with suicidal thoughts or self-harming behavior. By 2015, that percentage had increased to 1.79 percent.
“We noticed over the last two, three years that an increasing number of our hospital beds are not being used for kids with pneumonia or diabetes; they were being used for kids awaiting placement because they were suicidal,” Plemmons told CNN.
The research also revealed a sharp increase in these incidents coinciding with the beginning and ending of the school year — with a respite during the summer.
“When we looked at the number of kids awaiting placement or admitted at one time, month by month, there is a huge difference in the months,” Plemmons said. “Certainly, the month of the year that is the lowest for suicidal thoughts and ideation is July. And we see those numbers creep back up right when school starts.”
Plemmons, citing a number of factors that could lead to suicidal thoughts such as genetic disposition, bullying and abuse, said it is unclear what, exactly, is responsible for the rise.
“Research to understand factors contributing to these alarming trends is urgently needed,” he said in a news release.
Atlanta-based psychologist Avital Cohen opined that it may have to do with greater stress placed on children today alongside the rise in social media and, with it, cyberbullying.
“Our expectations of children have changed pretty significantly in the last several decades,” she told CNN.
The research did not look at completed suicides, which was the second leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10 and 24 in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
According to the CDC, the rate of suicide deaths among children between the ages of 10 and 14 has doubled since 2007.
The presentation comes as discussions of self-harming behavior among teenagers are on the rise due to Netflix’s original series “13 Reasons Why” based on the bestselling YA novel by Jay Asher.
The show is centered around the fictional suicide of 17-year-old Hannah Baker, who left behind several cassette tapes (13 sides altogether) laying blame for her death on various actions or inactions by different students.
The series culminates in a graphic scene showing Baker slitting her wrists and bleeding to death, which has angered many anti-suicide advocates. Headlines, such as Rolling Stone’s “Does ’13 Reasons Why’ Glamorize Teen Suicide?” appeared across the Internet.
As The Washington Post’s Bethonie Butler reported, “Experts advise against sensational headlines or describing a suicide in graphic detail, which studies have shown can lead to suicide contagion, or ‘copycat’ suicides.”
“Young people are not that great at separating fiction from reality,” Dan Reidenberg, executive director of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE), told The Post. “That gets even harder to do when you’re struggling with thoughts.”
Nonetheless, Netflix renewed the show for a 13-episode second season, set to air in 2018.